About two months ago, which tells you how far behind I am on my reviews, Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida. Each day we watched the cone move further and further west, until it looked like it was going to come right up the west coast and in to Tampa Bay. And each day, I packed more things into bags and suitcases, until finally, on Friday afternoon, they declared a mandatory evacuation of my entire town. I went home to collect my kid and the last of my important things, filmed the interior of my house, and got the heck out of dodge. We went to JB’s, he of all the good books, but I knew that being cooped up with four surly teenagers for the next few days was not going to lend itself to reading great literature, and so I asked the fine ladies of CBR if anyone had any suggestions of light romance, and scootsa100 graciously offered to lend me her set of Sabrina Bowen’s The Ivy Years series. And thank god she did, because I needed to be able to escape to Harkness College and hockey rinks instead of worrying about whether there was a tree through my roof. And it allowed me to ignore the fights over who was hogging the X-box and ignore the fact that they ate 90% of our hurricane food in the first day. Kids are like locusts.
In the first book, The Year We Fell Down, Bowen introduces us to Harkness College, a small New England college with a strong hockey team. Corey was supposed to start as a freshman player on the girls’ team, but an accident in her senior year of high school left her permanently in a wheelchair and unable to play. She meets Adam, the star of the boys’ team, who is also in a wheelchair, although his is temporary; he broke his leg before school started. A friendship blossoms, and for Corey, it’s more than that, although she knows she can’t act on it because Adam is with a beautiful – but nasty – co-ed. Bonding over video games (hockey, natch), and how to negotiate a campus that isn’t always wheelchair friendly, Corey and Adam grow closer and closer until one night, they act on their feelings. Of course, they can’t get out of their own way, and so misunderstandings ensue. Will they find their way back together?
The Year We Hid Away introduces us to Scarlet, a freshman who is hiding a terrible story back at home. Her father is under investigation for some sort of child abuse a la Joe Paterno and she’s tired of the news trucks on her front lawn every day, so she leaves town and changes her name, dropping her spot on the hockey team in the process. Bridger drops his spot on the team, too, but for very different reasons: he’s discovered that his mother has fallen in with the wrong crowd and worries that his little sister may be in danger. So he secrets her away to his dorm room, hoping against hope that the dean doesn’t discover her. With both Scarlet and Bridger hiding such big secrets, it’s inevitable that the truth will come out, and if they can’t learn to trust each other, Scarlet will lose her place in school and Bridger could lose his sister.
The Understatement of the Year brings us a transfer student named John Rikker, who is joining the hockey team after being outed – and subsequently ostracized – at his previous college. Rikker’s been out in one way or the other since an incident five years earlier, when he was attacked while out with his boyfriend, Michael Graham, who just so happens to be on the hockey team as well. Graham, who is definitely IN the closet, feels awful for leaving Rikker after that, and has done his best to forget the whole thing, and Rikker tries to play it cool, but when Graham is knocked out cold during a game, his feelings bubble to the surface and he can’t hide it any longer. Bonus points here for a really fun grandma.
The fourth book, The Shameless Hour, is about the hockey team’s manager Bella. Bella loves hockey and loves boys, sometimes in that order and sometimes not. She meets Rafe through his hockey playing roommate, and one night after too many drinks, and Rafe’s discovery that his girlfriend had been unfaithful, she sleeps with him, unknowingly relieving him of his virginity. Bella understands post-one night stand behavior, but Rafe is feeling guilty; his Catholic upbringing has him turned upside down about casual sex. Then Bella is drugged and accosted, and Rafe wants to help put her back together, but Bella is through with all men.
The final installment, The Fifteenth Minute, has freshman Lianne meeting DJ, the, well, DJ for the hockey games through her across the hall neighbor Bella. Lianne isn’t sure how to make friends or flirt with boys; she’s been acting in a Harry Potter-style movie franchise since she was little. And DJ is under weird sort of house arrest – he’s not allowed in the dorms – because a girl has accused him of sexual assault, and even though he knows he’s done nothing wrong, he doesn’t want to tell Lianne, or any of his other friends, either. But secrets never stay secret for long, and soon Lianne has discovered what’s been haunting DJ all year, and she goes all out to prove his innocence.
These can all be read as stand alone, but work best as a series. Bowen sets the scene well and the characters all kind of drift in and out of each other’s stories, but unlike other authors who write series (I’m looking at you Nora Roberts), she doesn’t telegraph the future hook ups. And they weren’t formulaic either; sometimes a series can feel very much like a fill in the blank or mad lib (ahem, SEP).
New Adult is a genre that sometimes gets a bad rap, and I have railed against it in the past. But this series was what New Adult should be. Books three and four are the most sex-positive books I think I’ve ever read, and they both explore sexuality in very real, honest ways. Rikker and Graham’s story is the first M/M romance I’ve read, and I thought it was quite well done. And I liked the way that Bowen handled Bella’s story for the most part, although I was troubled by a few things in it, mainly having to do with the incident at the fraternity and the “revenge” scenes. There was just something about that whole thing that felt…I’m not sure what. Dangerous? Silly? Hard to believe? I wish that Bowen had explored a little bit why Bella wasn’t willing to go to the authorities, which I think is a very real and natural reaction. But it felt almost like the attack was downplayed by what happened later at the football game, and I wonder what message it sends to girls and women who have experienced the same sort of thing. If we aren’t willing or able to pull a stunt like Bella did, does it mean we’re weak or somehow less than she is? And by pulling that prank, does it diminish the severity of the attack? And while the fraternity was humiliated, and rightly so, I’m not so sure that Bella didn’t just escalate things and put herself – and her friends – in more danger. I don’t know; maybe I’m overthinking it. I did enjoy her frank discussions of sex and her very unapologetic view of it, and I loved her budding friendship with Lianne.
All in all, a very nice diversion from a very long and stressful weekend. Thanks, scootsa1000!
More reviews found here.